Drag Divas

This weekend, Tucson's LGBT bars are putting on a drag show for charity that's serious business.

Turnabout for TIHAN is celebrating its 15th year of getting local bartenders to dress in drag for the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, a local nonprofit dedicated to education, advocacy and community services regarding people with HIV/AIDS.

Armed with elaborate costumes, choreographed dance numbers and a healthy dose of competition, bar staffers from six local gay bars are donning gender-bending threads to benefit TIHAN, on Sunday, Sept. 4, at the Doubletree Hotel.

This year's theme is "FIESTA!"—what with the event celebrating its own quinceañera, said Scott Blades, the executive director of TIHAN.

Each bartender or bar worker who participates comes up with their own looks, plans their own routines and gets their bar patrons to sponsor them to do the "turn-about" from male to female or vice versa, explained Blades.

The bartenders in drag then perform onstage, gathering tips and post-performance donation pledges, Blades said.

Last year, between ticket sales and the donations, the Turnabout raised more than $17,000, Blades said.

"Not bad for a little drag show, huh?" Blades said.

It started when local bartenders at the now-defunct Stonewall Eagle came up with the idea to dress in drag for charity, Blades said. After a successful night that raised a couple thousand dollars, other bars wanted to be involved.

Since then, the Turnabout has moved from a local bar to a hotel, because "none of them are big enough to host the show," Blades said.

Local drag queens Tempest DuJour and Janee Starr will serve as emcees, and Celia Putty, Miss Gay Arizona, will make an appearance. However, the participating bartenders are not necessarily drag queens, Blades said.

"I don't normally dress in drag," said Alvaro DeAsis, a bartender at IBT's who has been participating in the event for five years. "The only time I ever do it is to raise money for charity."

The competition can get intense, with each bar wanting to look its best—although charity and the spirit of fun are always kept in mind, DeAsis said.

The IBT bartenders' Lady Gaga routines excited audiences last year, DeAsis said, and the bar staffers have planned new dance performances and costumes to wow this year's crowd. They even hired a choreographer to help fine-tune their moves, he said.

"We've really stepped it up this year," DeAsis said.

In the end, all the competition and preparation is for a good cause, Alvaro said. "It's a lot of time and effort on my part, but it's worth it. We're trying to help the community," he said.

Six bars are participating this year: Ain't Nobody's Bizness, aka The Biz; Brodie's Tavern; Colors; IBT's; New Moon; and Woody's. There will be both drag queens and kings this year, Blades said.

Formalities and preparations aside, the fundraiser helps a good cause, Blades said.

TIHAN, founded in 1994, began "pretty informally, (with people) just getting together to take care of friends when they got sick," Blades said.

Since then, TIHAN has grown to become a strong support network for Southern Arizona, involving local volunteers and religious communities, Blades said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2008 that more than 1 million people were living with HIV in the United States. New data released from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows that as of 2010, Arizona has more than 14,000 persons reported living with HIV/AIDS.

But despite the data and the education, there's still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding HIV, Blades said. TIHAN works to challenge those misunderstandings, he said.

"It's about getting safe communities involved in being part of the solution and getting churches and synagogues to do what they say they're supposed to be doing," Blades said. "We're building bridges."

TIHAN now provides support services that include working with religious communities, organizing volunteer support groups, providing monthly lunch at the Poz Café, and offering emergency assistance.

The Turnabout helps TIHAN expand its outreach, Blades said.

"We're a small, private nonprofit, and we don't get any government funds, and $17,000 is a lot for us," Blades said. "What we can do with $17,000 is amazing."

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